The United States Patent and Trademark Office ("USPTO") recently announced a new fast-track examination option for certain patent applications. Known as "Track One," this optional program allows qualifying applications to undergo accelerated, prioritized examination for a $4,000 fee in addition to normal application fees. The goal of Track One is to reach a "final disposition" of an application within 12 months from it receiving prioritized status. "Final disposition" essentially means that the application has been allowed or a final Office action has been issued.

  • To qualify for prioritized examination under Track One, an application must: Be filed electronically on or after May 4, 2011;  
  • Be "complete" as filed (e.g., executed inventor oath or declaration, formal drawings and all fees);  
  • Include no more than four independent claims and no more than 30 total claims; and  
  • Be filed with a request for Track One examination and the $4,000 fee.  

Upon granting a request for prioritized examination, the USPTO will accord special status to the application. The application will be placed on the patent examiner's "special docket" during examination until a "final disposition" occurs. As illustrated in the timelines below, Track One applications are likely to receive a first Office action about two years earlier than an application undergoing normal examination. Track One applicants should receive a "final disposition" in about 12 months instead of the typical three to five years.

Click here to view diagram.

While Track One examination may be advantageous for applicants seeking issuance of a patent as soon as possible, applicants desiring to minimize or delay costs may wish to avoid Track One. In addition to requiring the $4,000 fee, Track One applicants should expect the costs associated with prosecution to be incurred sooner. For example, while a normal application may require responses to Office actions beginning two to four years after filing, Track One applicants should expect prosecution expenses to begin in earnest within several months of filing the application.

Unlike other accelerated examination programs, Track One imposes no additional prior art search requirements; however, Track One applicants should consider filing appropriate Information Disclosure Statements with their applications or as soon as possible thereafter.

Applicants preparing to file new applications in the near future may wish to discuss with their patent attorneys whether filing should be delayed until after May 4, 2011, to take advantage of Track One. Also, applicants may wish to discuss with their patent attorneys whether it may be advantageous to file a continuing application under Track One claiming priority to an application that is currently pending.